KUALA LUMPUR: FOREIGN intelligence has confirmed that Malaysia’s most wanted terrorist, Dr Mahmud Ahmad, was among those who had plotted the deadly Battle of Marawi, which has claimed more than 200 lives.
Sources told the New Straits Times that the 41-year-old, who is highly regarded among fighters engaged in the ongoing battle against the Philippine government’s security forces in the country’s south, had assumed a leadership role among affiliated militants of the Islamic State (IS) in the region.
It is learnt that the Philippine military had initially missed Mahmud as it sought to identify the personalities captured in a video clip, which made its rounds last week, planning the Marawi siege.
The 2.31-minute clip showed the men at a roundtable discussion, being briefed by one of the Maute brothers, Abdullah.
Listening intently was Isnilon Hapilon, who has a US$5 million (RM21 million) bounty on his head.
The 51-year-old IS leader for Southeast Asia, who is known as Abu Abdullah al-Filipini, did not appear to be injured as had been suggested in recent reports, which also hinted that Mahmud was poised to take over as the emir of this part of the world’s IS branch in the event of Hapilon’s death.
While Hapilon has made it into the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most wanted list for, among others, conspiracy to commit hostage-taking resulting in death, and the murder of a United States national outside the US, Mahmud has managed to escape the attention of international law enforcement agencies.
In the clip, sitting across Hapilon was the former Universiti Malaya lecturer, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Hanadzlah.
Abdullah, in his briefing in Maranao, a local dialect, was seen in the video mostly addressing Mahmud, who responded in the same language.
Mahmud, who looks more chiselled compared with his mugshot released by the police after he escaped a dragnet to join the Abu Sayyaf group in 2014, interjected Abdullah several times with questions on the plans that had been laid out to attack Mindanao State University in Marawi City, the capital of the Lanao del Sur province.
Also a target was Butig, a former training base for the Moro Islamic Liberation Fighters.
Also identified in the recording of the meeting held inside a concrete structure was Abdullah’s brother, Omarkhayam.
Aside from Mahmud, at least four known Malaysians had left the country to become fighters in the Philippines — former Selayang Municipal Council officer Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee, Sabah Darul Islam militants Jeknal Adil and Amin Baco, and Mohd Najib Husen.
Najib was Mahmud’s right-hand man and was running a stationery shop in UM before he came under the radar of the country’s counterterrorism operatives.
He fled with Mahmud to the Philippines and was reportedly killed in a shoot-out with the military in 2015.
Like Mahmud, the electrical engineering major was an expert bomb-maker.
“Among the group led by Hapilon, Mahmud is a well-respected leader.
“His military training experience at the al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan, aside from the fact that he has a strong Islamic background, including as a lecturer, has earned him respect from militants in the area,” one of the sources told the NST.
Mahmud had been responsible for recruiting Malaysians as IS members.
He had been the go-to guy for many Malaysians wanting to go to Syria to fight alongside IS.
Among them was the first suicide bomber from Malaysia, Ahmad Tarmimi Maliki, who blew himself up in Syria in May 2014.